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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/P012868/1
Title: Autonomous landing of a helicopter at sea: advanced control in adverse conditions (AC2)
Principal Investigator: Liu, Dr C
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Defence Science & Tech Lab DSTL Roke Manor Research Ltd
Department: Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering
Organisation: Loughborough University
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 01 June 2017 Ends: 28 February 2019 Value (£): 100,908
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Control Engineering Power Sys Man, Prot & Control
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
01 Dec 2016 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 1 and 2 December 2016 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has spanned from the military domain to a wide range of civilian applications in recent years. Among many different types of UAVs, helicopters (or rotorcraft in general) have dominated in many applications because of their unique capabilities of hovering, low speed cruise and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). Example applications can be easily found in aerial photography, film making and infrastructure inspection. However, unlike their full size counterparts, only few examples of using unmanned helicopters in maritime environments can be found, although the potential benefits of the rapid deployment, cost reduction and mission flexibility are great. The main challenge here is to land an unmanned helicopter accurately and safely on the deck of a ship, which needs to be conducted in an adverse maritime environment, such as external disturbances, ship movement and confined operational space.

This project aims to tackle this challenge by developing an integrated control framework for systems operated in adverse environments. It not only relies on traditional feedback mechanisms based on control errors, but is also able to anticipate environmental influences on the system dynamics and rectify them proactively. Specifically, by consolidating two powerful control concepts (i.e. disturbance observer based control and model predictive control) and further expanding their capabilities, the developed control framework will be able to deal with the complicated helicopter dynamics and to take into account the external disturbances from different sources, so as to improve the control accuracy and robustness. The development of this integrated control framework will be complemented by rigorous theoretical analysis and validated by realistic flight tests under adverse conditions.

In the light of the recent government promotion of maritime autonomous systems, the proposed research to enable autonomous landing of a helicopter on the deck of a ship would bring the advantages of unmanned helicopters into a vast range of applications in the maritime environment. This will complement surface and undersea maritime vehicles to form a truly 3-D autonomous capability at sea. Tasks such as environment monitoring, surveillance of vessel traffic and migrant flows, and cargo supply can be more efficiently performed by unmanned helicopters with modest cost. Allowing them to operate in adverse weather conditions will significantly improve their reliability and reduce the risks in the maritime environment. The proposed control framework will also play a critical role in fully exploring helicopters' VTOL capability in those tasks, for example to deliver humanitarian aid to boats with refugees and acquire samples from chemical or oil spills at sea, where precise manoeuvres are required.

Moreover, it is envisaged that the proposed control strategy can be used as a control synthesis tool not only for other types of small/micro UAVs in adverse conditions, but also in other application domains like autonomous surface vehicles, where disturbance impacts on system dynamics are also significant.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.lboro.ac.uk